Yap, for those of you who are not very familiar with Micronesia, is the land of giant stone money. It is the most traditional district of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Colonia is the state capital and the business and administrative center. Many people whom you encounter on the streets wear brightly colored loincloths and some women may even simply wear a woven hibiscus skirt. I’m sure I did not blend in to the morning crowd as I went for my runs in shorts and a tank top. According to Wikipedia, the population of Yap is 16,436, and the entire district of Yap State only spans an area of 46 square miles. After one of my runs I looked it up online and realized I had almost crossed the entire width of the island, that’s how small it is. Going off the main road and entering the villages, the roads turn into centuries-old stone footpaths and many of the houses are still built in the traditional style—wood, thatch, rope and bamboo. They look beautiful, and I was lucky enough to see a new house being built right in the center of town.
About my earlier mentioning of the Yapese stone money; I had heard stories and thought it was all wives tales, but as soon as I arrived in Yap I realized the stories were all true.
Legend has it that ancient navigator Anagumang, set sail in search of the ideal stone to be used as Yapese currency. On Palau’s Rock Islands he found a hard crystalline limestone that the Yapese then quarried into huge flat discs. Holes were carved in the center so logs could be slipped through and the stones were then lugged down to barges and towed by canoe 250 miles to Yap.
The voyage back was a dangerous one. Often entire expeditions were lost in storms at sea. The most valuable stones were not necessarily the largest, but those that were transported at the highest cost of human lives.
Stone money, which Yapese call rai, can range up to 12 feet in diameter and weigh as much as five tons. Stone money remains in use today for some traditional exchanges, but otherwise the US dollar is used for transactions.
Source: Hunt, E. et al. (2000) “South Pacific”. Lonely Planet Publications, 1st edition.
For our Yap State visit, there were a number of things on our agenda. Primarily this trip was a chance for the OneReef Micronesia Team to officially introduce themselves to partners across Yap State—Yap CAP, the Ngulu community, as well as to the Nimpal community. Some of the specific items our team aimed to accomplish on this trip were to:
- Revise the Nimpal agreement (if there was a need for it)
- Work with the Ngulu community members to
- Summarize the current state of progress and needs for optimal MPA enforcement
- Draft a list of activities that are needed in the near future to move forward with the Ngulu community monitoring efforts
- Collect short testimonial video clips
To acquaint you with the Nimpal and Ngulu conservation areas, here is a brief summary of the conservation management areas:
The Nimpal Channel Marine Conservation Area (NCMCA) was established to maintain the productivity and sustainability of the Okaw and Kaday fishing grounds. Building on traditional practices, the community saw the need for additional help in trying to maintain the local marine resources and to raise awareness throughout Yap and the rest of Micronesia. Yap State to this day remains a community with strong traditional ties. Thus, the marine management plan was set forth by the community and was prepared after consulting with local leaders, community members, and supporting partners. Some of the threats this area faces are unmanageable fishing & poaching activities, sedimentation, and runoff from upland areas. The current management system for Yap is made up of three different levels—traditional practices, national level management, and state management. The land and adjacent marine areas belong to clans but are subject to the complex tenure system. The tenured areas are inherited through the patrilineal line and tended to by women and are then inherited by their children. The waters in front of villages are under the jurisdiction of the village. On the national level, the FSM National Marine Resources Division (NMRD) of the Department of Resources and Development is responsible for providing national and state governments with technical information, training, advisory services, etc. At the state level, Yap has a complex marine and fisheries management structure. There are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as a customary branch.
In 2005 the Nimpal community members came together and presented the situation among their elders, fishermen, and women. The following year the community decided to take immediate steps to help reverse the decline in fish that had been noticed over recent years. These initial efforts by the community were supported by Yap CAP and other partners. After the first meeting organized by Yap CAP with the Kaday community, it was agreed on a no-take area that included the Togurgur Bluehole and partions of the Kaday fore-reef area. After meeting with the Okaw community, the planned area was extended to also include the Nimpal Channel and fore-reef / outer-reef of the Okaw fishing ground. After another year of planning and finalizing the management plan, the conservation planning (CAP) process was completed in April of 2008 with The Nature Conservancy staff and other partners. Currently the Nimpal community and its partnering organizations are looking at extending the current Nimpal Channel Marine Conservation Area as the plan in place right now is due to expire this year.
The Ngulu Marine Conservation Agreement is currently in the final version of the draft stage. The planned five year plan is for the period 2011 to 2015 and is an agreement involving 4 parties, the traditional authority of Ngulu Atoll, Yap CAP, the Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT), and OneReef. The agreement is also supported by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) and the Locally Managed Marine Area Network (LMMA). In the trial marine conservation agreement, parties are bound by the common goal of long-term protection, monitoring, and the sustainable management of Ngulu Atoll. The agreement is legally non-binding and can be renegotiated and/or modified during the trial period. The two core conservation commitments are
- Declaration of a marine managed area (MMA) under traditional authority as recognized by Yap State and the FSM.
- Successful and verifiable implementation of the Ngulu management plan.
Upon our arrival on Yap, our OneReef Micronesia team rested and then met with the Yap CAP staff for introductions and a briefing on the two communities’ progress. On the second day there we spoke to representatives of the Ngulu and Nimpal community. All meetings were very productive and everyone in the community meetings was glad to put faces to the names in prior email correspondence.
Photo Credits: Hanna Muegge